On insides and outsides

The difference between the inside and outside of people (including myself) has been occupying my thoughts recently.

I probably look much like I did 12 months ago. Perhaps a few more grey hairs, a few more wrinkles and possibly a little lighter in weight, but otherwise, much the same. Yet in the past year I’ve made a lot of internal changes and feel completely different for them; they just don’t show visually.  On the other hand, a friend changed externally by dying her hair this weekend but, I  imagine, will not feel that different inside afterwards. Unless she lets the dye fumes make her ill again…

I’ve always been bothered by friends drastically changing their appearance because I fear that the external change might be reflected by an internal change. Maybe they won’t want to be my friend anymore? I realise this is an irrational fear – I have never had anyone decide I don’t match their new haircut and ditch me as a friend, but that doesn’t take away the concern. They don’t look quite like the person I know.

I don’t know whether it’s worthy of mention that I am not observant when it comes to subtle visual changes or, in fact, anything about people’s appearances at all. I will not notice if you don’t wear makeup today, if you are fat (unless you’re so obese you need a mobility scooter), if you are moderately tall (I start noticing height at 6’4″) or if you are wearing a new top. I will notice if you are covered in cake crumbs and chocolate smears but that’s because food interests me more than people’s appearances.

As well as our physical appearance our “outsides” encompass the way we project each ourselves to the outside world. Most people wear a filter between themselves and the rest of the world. For some people this is just a thin barrier designed to keep them from telling their boss what they think of them and reminding them not to swear in front of small children. For others it is a full suit of armour, a strict censorship department and a rigid system of behavioural rules for all occasions. Most people have variable filter settings which allow different aspects of their personalities through in different situations. This is different from trying to project a false image of oneself, although most people do that too from time to time, if only to appear more confident in, for example, a job interview.

In the film 28 days the characters talk about trying to make your insides match your outsides. I’m not sure quite what’s meant by it in the film, but this is what it means to me: It’s about not trying to be anything you’re not, but being comfortable being yourself. It’s about not being artificial, not second guessing yourself and not putting a thick, censoring barrier up between your insides and your outsides.

In the film the addicts go to equine therapy and try to pick up a horse’s hoof. They’re told that they won’t be successful at getting the horse to let them pick up the hoof unless their insides match their outsides. During writing this post I’ve considered many of the people I know and was quite interested to see that everyone I’ve met who works with horses does seem to match inside and outside, as far as I can tell, so perhaps horses are good judges of this.

I think as a result of the changes of the last 12 months my outsides may be more like my insides than they used to be. I’ve taken off some armour, revoked some behavioural rules and relaxed the censorship. It’s a shame the internal work doesn’t show in my physical appearance, but I’m sure that it shows in the way that I face the world and the people in it.


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